Barely 3% of Britain’s most powerful and influential people are from black and minority ethnic groups, according to a broad new analysis that highlights startling inequality despite decades of legislation to address discrimination.
From a list of just over 1,000 of the UK’s top political, financial, judicial, cultural and security figures drawn up by the Guardian in partnership with Operation Black Vote and in consultation with academics, only 36 (3.4%) were from ethnic minorities (BAME). Just seven (0.7%) were BAME women.
The numbers betray a grotesque disconnect with the composition of the UK population, almost 13% of which has a minority background. In some sectors – the police, military, supreme court and security services as well as top consultancies and law firms – there were no non-white supremos at all. consultancies and law firms – there were no non-white supremos at all. One of the categories we looked at was FTSE 100 companies. Each of the circles represents the head of the company.
Of those just 2% were headed by a person of a minority ethnic background and none of them were BAME women. Of the members of government who attend cabinet, two are of a BAME background, or 7%. BAME individuals are poorly represented among the heads of the UK’s police forces, with no non-white chief constables. Of the 1,049 individuals in some of the positions of most power in the UK, just 36 are BAME or 3.4% of the total, despite people of a non-white background making up 12.9% of the population at the time of the 2011 census
Equality advocates said the new study shone a light on the glass ceilings, subtle discrimination and “affinity bias” that minorities face as a matter of course in their careers. The toll is severe, on individuals, communities, and society as a whole, they said.
“We need to ensure that every young person has a role model they can look up to,” said the London mayor, Sadiq Khan, one of the 36. “It’s so important to promote the successful figures from Britain’s BAME communities. We need to create a sense of optimism, aspiration and hope.”
Speaking at a Guardian Live event at the Labour party conference in Brighton on Sunday, Khan also identified confidence as a key factor in holding BAME people back. “Some white people feel confident about applying for jobs even if they are not fully qualified. But BAME people may not have the same confidence even though they are more qualified,” he said.
The data analysis looked at the ethnicity of more than 1,000 individuals across 39 categories covering politics and the civil service; policing, defence and the judiciary; FTSE companies and groups representing business; professional services including the heads of law, accountancy, advertising, consulting and publishing firms; arts bodies; media; trade unions; top universities; sporting bodies and NHS trusts.
The results of the exercise call into question the effectiveness of equality legislation such as the 2000 Race Relations Act and the 2010 Equality Act, which have seemingly done little to promote people of minority backgrounds into the highest positions of power “Pathways to power are almost non-existent if you’re black or Asian,” said Simon Woolley, director and co-founder of Operation Black Vote, which helped compile the Colour of Power data along with the recruitment consultant Green Park.
“The white club virtually locks out black talent. The lack of diversity at the top level is deeply troubling, not least because in most sectors there has been little or no progress at all.” Rebecca Hilsenrath, chief executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said the research showed that “inequality and unfairness are still entrenched in our society”.
“Without real diversity in leadership positions we will never be truly reflective of society, particularly when it comes to public services and bodies which serve our communities. There is absolutely no reason that BAME people should not be able to reach the top of their chosen profession,” she said, calling on the government to put in place a comprehensive and coherent race strategy.
The shadow equalities minister, Dawn Butler, said black people were losing out because contacts and networks trumped talent. “If people do not fulfil their potential in all walks of society then we all lose out: the country loses out, that person loses out, that business loses out.